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On April 22, the City of Vancouver formally apologized for the historical discrimination against Vancouver residents of Chinese descent. This apology was a long time coming for the descendants of all those who endured racism and unspeakable bias while helping to build this country and its railway.

Chinese Canadians in British Columbia were not allowed to vote until 1949; despite all this, family bonds remained strong, and efforts to unite loved ones in this land were sustained throughout.

Inspired by this troubling period, artist Paul Wong has launched an installation entitled “Occupying Chinatown” as part of a year-long term as the artist in residence at Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden in Chinatown.

As reported in The Star, “Much of Wong’s artwork created throughout the year will be based on 700 handwritten letters sent to his mother from more than a dozen different people, from 1946 to 2016, when she passed away. Wong said his mother was a “mail-order bride,” and met his father in 1947 when he travelled to Hong Kong from his home in Prince Rupert to pick her up…The letters are filled with mundane, yet fascinating, details that reveal the realities of living in Canada for early Toisanese immigrants in Canada.”

Paul Wong is commencing his residency with the screening of his film “Ordinary Shadows, Chinese Shade” looking at the Chinese community of China and Canada. To give you an example of the significance of this 1988 film, it has been accessioned by the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

The film is available on Vimeo and can also be seen in the Scholar’s Study inside the Sun Yat-Sen garden from April 22 to June 11.

Paul Wong will also be placing a neon sign which says “咸水埠温哥华 – pronounced Haam Siu Fow Wun Goh Wah in Cantonese – which translates to “Salt Water City Vancouver.” This was the old name for Vancouver familiar to early Chinese inhabitants and visitors to Vancouver.

The sign will be installed on the south wall of the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen garden. Wong sees his return to this Vancouver residency as coming full circle back to the community and believes that Chinatown, like Gastown should be recognized and protected as a historic place and neighbourhood.

And he references back to the theme of his work “Occupying Chinatown”: “It’s a very timely reminder that while there is a fight for Chinatown, among different factions and certainly developers, it’s about who are these places for – who gets to occupy Chinatown?”

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